Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lesson from CO: Stay in MN

A couple weeks ago, Arley and I departed on our adventure out to Colorado to visit Joe.  We were planning on a Saturday race at the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty 50K, and a bunch of training in the days to follow for Arley's last push before Western States.

The good news and all that matters is that Arley is ready to rock at Western States next weekend, and the first half of the trip was great!  The bad news is that the second half of the trip was a miserable reminder of why I belong here in Minnesota where there is significantly more oxygen.

Golden Gate Dirty Thirty
My flight landed in Denver at about 9pm on the Friday, and after a short night's sleep at Joe's, we headed over to the race start at Golden Gate Canyon State Park bright and early on Saturday.  We picked up our friend Troy along the way, and checked in at the start for the 6am race.  I don't think any of us had very high expectations for this race, but were hoping to just keep it steady and get a great training effort in if nothing else.  The advertised 7,800 feet of climbing and equal descent (all between 7,500 and 9,500 feet) was pretty intimidating for this flat-lander.

All the race pictures are by Woody Anderson.
From the sound of it, I was expecting this to be by far the hardest 50K I've ever run.  As it turned out, those expectations were about right.  I finished in 5:39 and in 19th place overall.  Here's the Garmin data for the race.

I was most worried at about 4 miles into the race.  I remember looking to Joe and saying it's going to be a really long day.  You're not supposed to feel terrible at the beginning of an ultra - the legs just felt like lead.  I think my 4th mile took over 14 minutes.  I was pretty sure I was going to be hiking most of the course.

It continued to be pretty rough for the first 15-20 miles.  I was pretty frustrated right around the halfway point when I clammering over these huge boulders and spending more time trying to figure out where to step next than I did moving.  Thank goodness the course got less technical for the last half.  After that section, things actually felt better as the race went along.  There was a huge climb for two miles at about mile 25 or so that I felt fairly steady on, then it was mostly downhill from there to the finish.

Beautiful views the whole way...snow-capped peaks in the distance.
All in all, my time was about what I expected based on times from previous years at this race.  The biggest surprise though was how deep the field was.  I passed a handful of people in the last half, but considering how I finished feeling good and how many were ahead of me, I thought for sure I would have passed more.  There are just a whole lot of really good runners out West.  It's definitely a different ball-game out there in the mountains...those guys and gals are fast.

The Rest of the Trip:
We spent Saturday afternoon after the race enjoying a few beers at Golden's 2nd largest brewery - the very tiny and very tasty Golden City Brewery.  Then spent the evening eating pizza and a ridiculous amount of frozen yogurt.

On Sunday we ran the 7 mile Apex Loop right behind Joe's house, went shoe shopping for Arley, went to Hangover 2, played tennis (all of us were equally bad), and even drove up and saw Buffalo Bill's Grave!  We still don't really know what Buffalo Bill did, but we did clarify that he is not the same guy as Wild Bill.

Even though this was right next to Buffalo Bill's grave, we're fairly certain
Buffalo Bill was not actually a Buffalo.
Then on Monday, we made the trip to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.  We did an awesome 10 mile or so run near Estes Park - the Lumpy Ridge Loop.  Even saw a bunch of big Elk and was a beautiful trail.

Moose sighting! On the short drive back into Estes Park right after our run.
After lunch, we drove up Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park, and turned around just past the high point of over 12,000 feet.  There was still an unbelievable amount of snow up there - it was actually the first day the road was open for the season.  I'm glad we went up there...there were some beautiful views of the mountains.  Although I'm pretty sure that's what finished me off.

Joe and Arley in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Great views of the snowy Rocky's above the tree line.
Altitude Sickness is Miserable.
By the time we got back to Joe's house on Monday, the altitude was taking its toll.  I was completely exhausted, couldn't eat, and would find myself laying in bed for the next two days and missing the climb up Pike's Peak that Joe and Arley did the next day.  I knew altitude sickness could happen to anyone and that it could get pretty bad, but I had never been nearly that sick in my life.  It was pretty miserable.  I didn't really eat for three days, lost over 8 pounds, and took a few days to get the energy and appetite back.  I even had to take three days completely off from running.  And I really don't like taking days off...first time off since sometime back in October.

I have been told by some runners who are much smarter than me that if you don't take a break, at some point your body will find a way to force you to take a break.  I think that's sort of what happened here.  I had 14 weeks in a row of pretty consistently hard training, so I think I was maybe walking that fine line of how much is too much.  In the end, I think it was probably a really good thing to be forced to take some time off.  And getting sick is a million times better than an injury, so I am quite grateful for that.

Needless to say, I don't have any desire to run out in CO again anytime soon, but I'm sure I'll be talked into giving it another shot sometime sooner than later.  Besides, I have to run up Pike's Peak since I bailed this time.  In the meantime, I'm just going to hang out here in Minnesota and try to stay below 1,000 feet.


  1. Sounds like a good trip overall. Hopefully you will adapt to altitude the next time you head out that way.

    Hmmmm... if you plan to stay below 1000 feet that means no trips to the North Shore! Or at least no running the ridgelines ;->

  2. Haha...yeah I was sort of kidding about 1,000 feet. I'll still be heading up to the SHT this summer. I'll be testing out 5,000 feet this weekend at Black Hills...I'm hoping that will go much better.

  3. Good Luck man, you will be fine!!!! I have faith. Nice report.